What is a protest movement worth which uses the same repressive tactics as the government against which it’s protesting? What use is a movement that demands democracy, while behaving like thugs to those who would be allies? What good is a movement that betrays the values it claims to uphold?
While Israel’s new fascist government came to power two weeks ago, it took that long for a new mass movement to arise that opposed it and everything it stands for. Well, almost everything. More on that later.
The protesters demand a restoration of democracy. They demand the new government maintain the rule of law and not dismantle the Supreme Court. They demand that Israel remain a state both for secular and religious Jews. They denounce the most radical, extreme government in the nation’s history. They understand that institutions and values they hold dear are in danger. They are desperately trying to extinguish the Reichstag Fire before it consumes the nation.
The message is resonating. On Saturday night, anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 turned out in Tel Aviv’s HaBimah Square, the largest crowd ever gathered there. For a Twitter thread roll of Tal Schneider’s photos.
In addition some 3000 people gathered in Jerusalem around President Herzog residence protesting his relatively moderate reactions to the proposed changes. pic.twitter.com/PoJ3b8XpMV
— Tal Schneider טל שניידר تال شنايدر (@talschneider) January 14, 2023
— Tal Schneider טל שניידר تال شنايدر (@talschneider) January 14, 2023
Yisrael Frei, a dissident ultra-Orthodox journalist, recently arrested by the Shin Bet for praising a Palestinian who planned a terror attack, but never carried it out because he would not attack Israeli civilians, tweeted:
In their face: horns and [political] power, Israeli flags, Palestinian flags waving. Against the fascist camp, the camp of equality rises. Together, Without fear. To victory!
בפרצוף שלכם, שלטון ושופרות. דגלי ישראל, דגלי פלסטין, תקפצו. מול מחנה הפאשיזם – מחנה השוויון מרים ראש. יחד. בלי פחד. עד לניצחון. pic.twitter.com/ZAzwisIzxD
— ישראל פריי (@freyisrael1) January 14, 2023
The following tweet celebrates the arrival of Mansour Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Raam Party which was the first Arab party to join an Israeli governing coalition (the center-right government which preceded the current one). Abbas is considered by Israelis to be the Good Arab. He won’t rock the boat. He won’t be a firebrand like the Palestinian nationalist political party, Balad. Like the Haredi political parties, he wants a piece of the pie for his constituents. Yes, he wants to provide electricity for Bedouin villages who’ve never been connected to the power grid. But he is an old-fashioned patronage politician. “Give me mine,” should be his slogan. Note, Abbas is not carrying a Palestinian flag. Possibly because it would get him arrested.
— Ossi Goodbeer דמוקרטית 🇺🇸🇮🇱 (@GoodbeerOssi) January 14, 2023
Here a thug protester assaults a group raising a Palestinian flag and rips it out of the man’s hands. Barak Mayer’s tweet says: Wow, what a impressive demonstration of democracy today was.”
וואו איזה מפגן מרגש של דמוקרטיה היה היום: https://t.co/UhCmaC9AaJ
— Barak Mayer (@ireallyhateyou) January 14, 2023
More protestors held a Palestinian flag aloft. Mayer’s tweet reads: “We’ve begun. Democracy for all, from the Jordan to the [Mediterranean] sea.”
Muhammad Shehadeh reports on physical assaults and arrests of protestors for flying the Palestinian flag:
— Muhammad Shehada (@muhammadshehad2) January 14, 2023
Above, you see one of the main problems with any Israeli Opposition movement whether it be the J13 social equality movement of the Crime Minister protests. They all feel they must outdo the fascist right in terms of displaying their patriotism. This is a dead-end. You can never be a better patriot than the Likud. They have that market cornered. When you try to satisfy everyone by showing your patriotism, you satisfy no one. You stand for nothing despite whatever slogans you may shout. Apparently, they haven’t heard the saying: “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.” Likud are the scoundrels. Why seek to emulate or outdo them?
By the way, the slogan of today’s protest was “Freedom, Equality, Good Government.” Freedom for whom? Israeli Jews, yes. But Palestinians? Forget about it. Equality? For whom? Perhaps for Israeli Jewish LGBTQ community, perhaps for women facing the misogyny of the new government. But for Palestinians? No. Not even for Israeli Palestinians.
While many demonstrators held aloft signs warning the new government was destroying Israeli democracy, that is a misnomer. They are protesting to protect Israeli ethnocracy: a system that offers democracy to a single ethnic group and denies it to another. The current Israel system offers such rights to Israeli Jews and offerrs a far more limited set of rights to Israeli Palestinians. While offering no rights to West Bank Palestinians.
A Haaretz journalist highlighted the taboo among protestors and the Israeli public at large against the P-word. Here he quotes an anymous demonstrator when faced with a Palestinian flag: “This isn’t the time for that,” another protester said. “The demonstration has a focused message, and you’re diverting attention from the issue.”
When will there be time for that? They don’t need to answer. There will never be time for that. A “focused message” is not an excuse for discarding the issue of Palestine. It is, if not the most important issue, it is one of the critical issues facing Israel. But given this refusal, there can ultimately be no justice, equality or freedom there. Occupation will continue. War will continue. Death will continue. On both sides.
How does one get Israelis to recognize this? You can’t. As Upton Sinclair once said: ““It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” In the Israeli context I would say: It is impossible to get a nation to understand something when it believes that its existence depends on it not understanding it. Israelis are correct about one aspect of this conundrum. Recognizing Palestine and the necessity of resolving its claims would end the existence of Israel as a Judeo-supremacist state. It would require an entirely different political conception of the state. This is what Israelis do not want to understand. Perhaps they will never understand. If they don’t, war and death will continue endlessly: the greatest tragedy at all possible.
However laudable it may be to oppose this disastrous government, this movement will not last. It will peter out as so many have before this one. Bibi will buy it off. He’ll announce with a flourish that some of the most noxious legislative proposals are off the table (for now). The uproar will die down. And the government will go back to tearing down Israeli institutions and rights piece by piece. They’ll do it more slowly. They’ll do it piece by piece, rather than all at once. They’ll learn their lesson from this. Don’t tell the frog to jump in a pot of boiling water. Instead, tell him how nice and warm the water is. Then turn up the heat.